Science

SF’s revamped indoor/outdoor science museum is 3x bigger & adult-friendly

San Francisco is a city famously low on kids. So for the city’s Exploratorium¬†interactive science museum, a recent revamp included not only expanding to a huge waterfront property featuring indoor/outdoor exhibits and a swank, all-glass building. It also meant making more room for the city’s adults.

That’s why two nights a week, the Exploratorium will be open until 10 p.m., featuring science-themed programming, cultural events, and cocktails.

“For 44 years, so many of you have loved us and that beautiful Palace [of Fine Arts],” said Exploratorium executive director Dr. Dennis Bartels of its former home at an event to show off the new space this morning.

“But the [old] place was a bit dark, a bit dusty, a little bit isolated. Today, we’re reopening the Exploratorium on the front porch of San Francisco … the best place for this quintessential San Francisco institution.”

The new facility, located a world away from the Exploratorium’s former Palace of Fine Arts digs, is situated along the city’s famed Embarcadero at Piers 15 and 17 — a location with plenty of expansion opportunity. The space features 330,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor exhibits — 600 total exhibits, around a quarter of which are new — as well as 1.5 acres of free space, two restaurants, and a promenade.

As you might be able to tell from the name, the museum is more focused on hands-on experiences and learning than static displays and words printed on plaques.

“We try to create experiences where people can gain the confidence to achieve understanding by themselves,” said George Cogan, the Exploratorium’s board director, at the same event. “People of all ages, we nurture people’s understanding. .. We’re an R&D center for experiential learning.”

Exhibits aim “to change the way in which we learn and think about learning,” said Bartels, and will include the usual science-museum fare such as all the high school biology you ever forgot and weather demonstrations. But there are also less typical topics to explore.

For example, the Tinkering Studio delves into a hands-on look at maker culture, complete with opportunity to hack, experiment, and invent. And the Wired Pier features more than one dozen sensors on and around the pier to stream real-time data about the environment — data such as air and water quality, weather information, tidal schedules, and pollution. In the Bay Observatory Gallery, visitors can see interactive visualizations of the data.

On the more creative side is the Fog Bridge, a large-scale outdoor fog installation. An homage to one of San Francisco’s better-known characters, the installation will be housed on a 150-foot-long pedestrian bridge. The project is the work of Japanese interdisciplinary artist Fujiko Nakaya.

Wednesday and Thursday nights, the Exploratorium will be more or less adults-only. Both nights will feature a cash bar. Wednesdays will focus on cinema (perfect for a super-classy date night), and Thursdays will feature special programming on science and culture (perfect for a super-nerdy date night).

The museum will officially open to the public April 17, 2013. I’m taking a tour of the new museum today, however, and will post my findings shortly — stay tuned!

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